Students and staff gathered in an auditorium
Empowering Youth through Film
Reel House Foundation curates screenings tailored to stimulate curiosity and critical thinking among young audiences as they explore diverse perspectives, themes, and ideas

What started as a movie night with a group of friends at a local theater in 2015 has expanded to a charitable foundation that brings the world of film to young minds, providing them with not just entertainment but also an outlet for discussions promoting empathy and greater cultural understanding.

For the longest time, Jason Wiseman ’96 wanted to host a movie marathon for his birthday. Although he originally thought about making a whole day out of it, he settled on a double feature for the first Mystery Movie Mini-thon—The Muppets Take Manhattan and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Wiseman wanted to rent out the local theater and have food catered, but the cost of that was somewhat prohibitive on a weekend night.

“I would inevitably have to charge people money or at least have them pitch in to come out, so the idea was if we made money over the amount that it cost us to rent the theater and order the food, we would donate that to charity,” Wiseman explains.

The charity Wiseman and his friends chose was Child’s Play, which was founded in 2003 when Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade challenged their fans to support Seattle Children’s Hospital through an Amazon Wishlist to change the negative perception of gaming and gamers in the media. Wiseman followed this Mystery Movie Mini-thon model for three years before he and classmate Hunter Bass ’96 began talking about focusing their contributions to charities in the Fort Worth area. The Reel House Foundation was born in 2018 from this desire to create a local impact and foster the next generation of film lovers.

“Our process is to recreate the cinematic experience for those kids as best as we can so when we bring them in, they’re allowed to get whatever candy, soda, or popcorn they want. That’s part of the movie-going experience that we want to make sure these at-risk and underserved populations can enjoy. There’s this great excitement built up when they come in and are able to partake in this opportunity,” Wiseman says.

Once the children have had a chance to select their snacks, Wiseman provides a brief introduction of the film, explaining why it is important or sharing some trivia about its development. At the end of the film, the children participate in a discussion about what they liked and disliked and what they would change if they could.

“That’s really the key of our mission. We want to try to open up that dialogue and have this new generation of film-goers be able to look at films critically. It’s an important skill to not just be dismissive if they didn’t like it but instead form an opinion of why they didn’t like it,” Wiseman says.”

Wiseman also wants his young audiences to realize and appreciate the passion that went into the creation of the films they watch.

“The ultimate goal here is to show these kids that any sort of film—good, bad, or indifferent—is an accomplishment. Someone worked hard on it and used their voice to share a story,” Wiseman says.

The Reel House Foundation believes in the transformative power of cinema to inspire, educate, and unite communities, and it endeavors to fill the gap left in Fort Worth by the loss of arthouse theaters like the Grand Berry Theater, which closed its doors in 2022, by championing diverse narratives and artistic expressions often overlooked in mainstream cinemas.

“We’re trying to recreate that communal experience of going to a film. A good film or even a bad film can be thoroughly enjoyable because it’s a shared experience with a group of people who are all laughing at the same thing, crying over the same scene, or falling for a jumpscare together,” Wiseman says.

No longer just a birthday celebration, the Mystery Movie Mini-thon lives on as the Reel House Foundation’s annual fundraiser, where most of the money needed to host screenings for children is raised. Wiseman selects the movies and keeps them a closely guarded secret until the fundraiser.

“Since that first one in 2015, they’ve been relatively obscure films, so that helps fuel the conversation a little bit. People will often thank me for introducing them to a new film they would not have found otherwise,” Wiseman says.

While he won’t divulge his choices for this year, Wiseman shares that he chose 2020’s Nine Days and Strawberry Mansion from 2021 as his picks for last year’s fundraiser.

“Usually. I don’t show films that are recent, but because of the pandemic, there were a lot of films that just kind of got lost and, for whatever reason, never found an audience,” Wiseman explains.

Wiseman grew up in Amarillo as an only child. During the summers, he was left to his own devices and would frequent the video rental store.

“Our generation was at the forefront of the home video market, so I was able to consume all of these movies. I found myself only ever wanting to watch movies and talk about them, and that’s where my passion comes from,” Wiseman says.

While Bass acknowledges that he is not as well versed in cinema as Wiseman, he echoes his sentiment about the role movies played in their lives growing up.

“They were not only a form of escapism from whatever you were going through, but there was also a very large social component to them. You went to hang out at the movie theater and played arcade games and bought movie tickets until you had wasted all of your quarters you had earned mowing lawns and things like that,” Bass says.

Bass also appreciates the versatility of film.

“I love not just the nostalgia of film but the relevancy of it. Just like a song, you can find a film for any situation. If you are having a bad day or whatever it may be, a good movie can work to cheer you up just like a good song,” Bass says.

Wiseman credits Trinity’s Coates Library for expanding his knowledge of film.

“There was no cable TV when we were at Trinity, but Trinity had a really good library of arthouse films and foreign films. We spent a good portion of our time in the library checking out stuff and seeing things we were never really exposed to, especially me coming from a smaller town in Texas,” Wiseman says.

Bass was born and raised in San Antonio and was attracted to Trinity because of its proximity to home, great reputation, and it being the alma mater of his mother, Darlene Bass ’65. Bass, an accounting major, and Wiseman, an engineering science major, both found Trinity’s Division III athletics to be a major selling point when they applied.

“I didn’t play football in high school. My mother wouldn’t sign the consent form, and that was that,” Bass recalls. “I actually went to Trinity to play baseball. Jeff Brown was the head baseball coach and defensive coordinator for football. I saw the football field during my tour of the baseball facilities, and he encouraged me to try out.”

Bass admits he did not know what he was doing on the football field at first, but he stuck with it, in large part because of teammates who became close friends like Wiseman.

Hunter Bass (42) and Jason Wiseman (61) got to know each other through Trinity’s football program.

“We were 2-8 our freshman year, and our sophomore year was Trinity’s first conference championship. From there, Trinity has pretty much been a powerhouse in Texas and Division III football, so I like to think that we were kind of at the forefront of some of that,” Wiseman says with a smile.

After Trinity, Bass worked for the international accounting firm of Arthur Andersen before returning to school to obtain his Master of Business Administration and law degree from St. Mary’s University. He practiced law for several years before opening his own CPA firm in San Antonio in 2017. Wiseman has worked in software development since graduating from Trinity and is currently a senior information technology project manager for Jacobs.

The Reel House Foundation operates completely through volunteer power, so they are trying to set realistic goals, such as offering monthly screenings for local organizations that give back to local youth. In the future, they are hoping that the Reel House Foundation can provide educational workshops on screenplay writing or filmmaking. They have also been investing the money they have raised in technology that will allow them to take the Reel House Foundation experience on the road. This June, the Reel House Foundation will be doing an event at SAMMinistries in San Antonio.

“We think about kids who might have problems being in new places, so we want to bring the theater experience to them in a place that they are familiar with and comfortable in,” Bass says.

Through this cinematic education and engagement, Bass and Wiseman hope the at-risk youth they interact with will be inspired to confidently participate in dialogue not only about film but also books, music, and art in general.

“The kids in these situations usually don’t have a voice themselves. They’re not asked their opinion. When we have these discussions after the film screenings, the kids find themselves in an environment where they are actually encouraged to use their voice, share their opinion, and think creatively,” Bass says.

“There are certain moments in our discussions when you see a kid coming out of their seat wanting to talk, and they can’t contain their excitement because they really want to share their opinion. It’s those powerful moments that are most rewarding because you see someone who has really been touched or entertained by a film and is now energized by it,” Wiseman says. “It really feels like those kids are giving back more to us than what we feel like we’re giving to them.”

To learn more about the Reel House Foundation, visit reelhousefoundation.org.

Kenneth Caruthers '15 is the assistant director of Digital Communications for the University’s Office of Alumni Relations.

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